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Hardesty v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

April 24, 2019



         I. Introduction:

         On September 8, 2014, Gene E. Hardesty applied for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning on March 31, 2013. (Tr. at 16) Mr. Hardesty's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. After conducting a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Mr. Hardesty's application. (Tr. at 24-25) Mr. Hardesty requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but that request was denied. (Tr. at 3) Therefore, the ALJ's decision stands as the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr. Hardesty filed this case seeking judicial review of the decision denying benefits.[1]

         II. The Commissioner's Decision:

         The ALJ found that Mr. Hardesty had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of March 31, 2013. (Tr. at 18) At step two of the five-step analysis, the ALJ found that Mr. Hardesty had the following severe impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and gout. Id.

         After finding that these impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment (Tr. at 19), the ALJ determined that Mr. Hardesty had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform the full range of work at the sedentary exertional level, with some restrictions. (Tr. at 19-20) He could not perform foot control operations. Id. He could have no exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, or gases. Id. He could have no exposure to temperature extremes of hot or cold. Id.

         The ALJ found that Mr. Hardesty was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (Tr. at 23) Then, relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert (VE), the ALJ found, based on age, education, work experience and RFC, that Mr. Hardesty could perform work in the national economy as lamp shade assembler and general office clerk. (Tr. at 24) The ALJ determined, therefore, that Mr. Hardesty was not disabled. Id.

         III. Discussion:

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court's role is to determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Prosch v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1010, 1012 (8th Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence” in this context means “enough that a reasonable mind would find it adequate to support he ALJ's decision.” Slusser v. Astrue, 557 F.3d 923, 925 (8th Cir. 2009)(citation omitted). In making this determination, the Court must consider not only evidence that supports the Commissioner's decision, but also evidence that supports a contrary outcome. The Court cannot reverse the decision, however, “merely because substantial evidence exists for the opposite decision.” Long v. Chater, 108 F.3d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         B. Mr. Hardesty's Arguments on Appeal

         In this appeal, Mr. Hardesty maintains that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence. He argues that the RFC did not fully incorporate all of his limitations and that the ALJ did not properly analyze credibility.

         Mr. Hardesty had some hospitalizations for chest pain related to coronary artery disease. But in October 2012, a stress test revealed no coronary artery disease. (Tr. at 266) Cardiac exam showed normal rate and rhythm. (Tr. at 254) Chest x-ray showed no acute findings. (Tr. at 257) Normal examination findings are not indicative of disabling conditions. Gowell v. Apfel, 242 F.3d 793, 796 (8th Cir. 2001). Mr. Hardesty was treated conservatively.

         In November 2012, Mr. Hardesty's hypertension was noted to be controlled, but he underwent surgery for repair of his femoral artery. (Tr. at 263-264). When he was released from the hospital two days later, his pain was controlled, and he could ambulate. Id. At that time, he had a normal EKG and another normal chest x-ray. (Tr. at 386)

         Mr. Hardesty presented to the ER in March and April 2013 for chest pain. A cardiac x-ray showed slight dextroscoliosis and interstitial markings, but normal heart size. (Tr. at 335) In June 2014, Mr. Hardesty returned to the hospital with chest pain, but was in no acute distress; and an EKG and telemetry test was normal. (Tr. at 378) Upon discharge the following day, Mr. Hardesty was asymptomatic. Id. He was placed on a low salt diet. Id. The need for only conservative treatment contradicts allegations of disabling pain. Smith v. Shalala, 987 F.2d 1371, 1374 (8th Cir. 1993). In November 2014 and November 2015, Mr. Hardesty's angina was stable. (Tr. at 606-614) He admitted that nitroglycerin helped with ...

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